Do you ever wake up from nine hours of sleep feeling worse than when you first laid down? Or find yourself staring off into the distance instead of focusing on work or a conversation with friends? Us too. We’ve been there, and it’s quite literally exhausting when you don’t feel rested. It’s even more frustrating when you can’t understand why.

It turns out there may be something more to “not feeling rested” despite getting enough sleep. About 10 years ago, Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith was a busy physician and mother of two young kids. Despite sleeping well at night, she was feeling burned out, overwhelmed, and exhausted—and she was noticing the same trends in many of her patients. 

“What happens if you get 8 hours and you’re still exhausted? Cause that’s where I found myself,” says Dr. Dalton-Smith, a board-certified internal medicine physician near Birmingham, Alabama. Sleep wasn’t cutting it for her anymore, so she decided to research the problem. She also began exploring why many of her patients complained about feeling unrested. 

What happens if you get 8 hours and you’re still exhausted? Cause that’s where I found myself.
— Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith

The research was astounding. Dr. Dalton-Smith found that many of her patients were lacking seven different types of rest: physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, sensory, social, and creative. She then published her findings in her book “Sacred Rest” in 2017.

Some types of rest, like emotional and social, often go hand in hand. For example, “when you’re stuck in traffic, you’re using your mental and sensory energy to process your surroundings,” Dr. Dalton-Smith explains in a TED Talk. If you’re in need of one type of rest, you’re likely in need of a few of them.

So, which types of rest do you most need right now? While you may have a good idea after reading the descriptions, Dr. Dalton-Smith’s Rest Quiz can also help you determine what areas of your life need the most focus. By exploring Dr. Dalton-Smith’s seven types of rest and taking some emphasis off of simply sleeping, we can move away from our culture of burnout and enter what she calls a “rest revolution.” Here’s how:

1. Physical Rest

Active rest can look like gentle activities such as yoga, stretching, or massage therapy.

According to Dr. Dalton-Smith, sleep isn’t even an entire rest category of its own—sleep is in the physical rest category, which also includes active physical rest. Active rest can look like gentle activities such as yoga, stretching, or massage therapy, which increase blood flow to your muscles, lower stress, and boost your body’s healing. You’ll know you’re not getting enough active physical rest if your body has certain aches or swelling. Some experts recommend taking active rest days every other day.

2. Mental Rest

A person lacking mental rest might have racing thoughts that they have difficulty quieting to focus or falling asleep. While going on vacation might help with this type of fatigue, Dr. Dalton-Smith advocates for more sustainable long-term solutions, like scheduling breaks every couple of hours throughout your day to do nothing but rest your brain. You can also jot down your thoughts throughout the day or before bed to clear your mind.

Since launching the Rest Quiz a few years ago, Dr. Dalton-Smith notes “mental rest deficit has consistently been one of the top 2 almost every single time.” While we talk a lot about mindfulness, she continues, many of us haven’t yet added mindfulness into our routine in an effective way. Many folks actually find successful mental rest when they’re active. While running, for example, rather than thinking a million thoughts, someone might focus on their cadence and breathing, she explains.

3. Spiritual Rest

Spiritual rest is harder to define because spiritual needs vary from person to person. But no matter your beliefs, common spiritual needs include the need for purpose, love from others, and a sense of belonging. 

Someone lacking spiritual rest might have trouble feeling like what they do everyday matters.

Someone lacking spiritual rest might have trouble feeling like what they do everyday matters. Finding a strong community and getting in touch with your own beliefs, whether through a faith-based culture or not, can help you find spiritual rest. Additional ways to nurture your spiritual needs may include daily prayer, meditation, gratitude practices, or giving back to others.

4. Emotional Rest

If you feel yourself putting on a front when you talk to others or struggle to say no and advocate for your own needs, you may need emotional rest. 

“An emotionally rested person answers the question ‘how are you today?’ with a truthful ‘I’m not ok,’” Dr. Dalton-Smith says in her TED Talk. In other words, emotionally rested people can more easily let their guard down. 

When we bring more authenticity into engaging with others and showing our feelings, we can more easily work toward emotional rest and balance. Try being honest about how you’re genuinely feeling with someone you trust. Therapy can also be a great environment if you’re seeking a safe and vulnerable space.

5. Sensory Rest

Most of us aren’t aware of how sensory environments can impact our feelings, personality, and even energy levels.
— Dr. Dalton-Smith

Between blue light screens, our AirPods, and that stack of TBR books, the stimulation we’re exposed to daily can become overwhelming. “Most of us aren’t aware of how sensory environments can impact our feelings, personality, and even energy levels,” says Dr. Dalton-Smith. While putting on a favorite album or sitting down with a book can be relaxing, sometimes it’s more restful for our brains to shut off and have some content-free time. 

Try to drive home from work in total silence, or if you’re feeling particularly stressed or tired in the middle of the work day, find a quiet space where you can shut your eyes and be with your thoughts for a few minutes.

6. Social Rest

While introverts might need more time to recharge after social interaction than extroverts, everyone can benefit from social rest. According to Dr. Dalton-Smith, a social rest deficit happens when “we fail to differentiate between those relationships that revive us from those that exhaust us.” For more social rest, prioritize spending time with those in your life who simply want to be around you without constantly needing anything from you. Additionally, be mindful of your calendar as you say yes to invitations and gatherings.

7. Creative Rest

We experience creative rest whenever we appreciate beauty.
— Dr. Dalton-Smith

All of us are creative in some capacity. You don’t have to be a writer or painter to use creativity in your daily life; you use it when problem-solving, brainstorming, or thinking outside the box, and you might have trouble doing these things when you need creative rest. 

We experience creative rest whenever we appreciate beauty, explains Dr. Dalton-Smith, like the beauty of nature, artwork, or music. When you rest creatively, you allow yourself to simply be without overthinking or analyzing your surroundings. While you may have the urge to make sense of your environment or create art from your experience, sometimes it’s necessary to simply rest and enjoy the beauty around us.

Remember that no matter what society tells us, rest is not an optional activity or something reserved for vacations and weekends. We all need rest, every day, in different capacities and areas of our lives. May this list and Dr. Dalton-Smith’s work encourage you to find the rest you need—and may we all encourage one another to live mindfully and slow down as often as needed.


Natalie Gale is a Boston-based freelance journalist. When she’s not writing about art, food, or sustainability, you can find her biking to the farmers’ market, baking, sewing, or planning her next Halloween costume. Say hi on Instagram!